S&W, Practice, and Prayers: First Whitetail by Wheelgun
The hours in the stand were getting long, day turning dusk when the doe broke from cover. She ran into the field with a young basket-rack buck on her tail. Even across a forty, I could tell he wasn’t the shooter I was seeking, but with a pocket full of doe tags and freezer needing venison, I watched through the binos as the pair closed the distance across the beanfield. She was alone, mature doe and angling my way. For the first time on a deer hunt, I held a revolver in my hand instead of the familiar stock of a rifle. Knowing my own limitations, and seeking a quick, clean harvest, I wanted a shot inside 50-yards.
The doe continued to distance from her pursuing buck, and finally seeing her disinterest, he angled off to another woodline. Her gallop slowed to a walk, still moving my way and now closing the gap inside 100 yards. I checked and double-checked the red dot sight. I steadied my strong hand and prepared, feeling a nervousness and excitement I haven’t felt since my early days of whitetail hunting. The doe stepped inside the magic 50-yard mark, still walking with authority, quartering slightly.
With a smooth click, I cocked the hammer on my Smith & Wesson. I knew I’d have a small window of opportunity as the doe continued her move for the cover of the hardwoods. I tracked her with the green dot in my wheelgun’s optic, and when she slowed just inside 45 yards, the opportunity presented itself.
Time stopped. I steadied my breathing yet felt the thundering heartbeat in my ears.
I had read and re-read AHunter’s Prayer written by our local priest, also an avid Whitetail hunter, and recalled its invocation.
That light single-action trigger broke, crisp and clean, breaking the silence of hours. After years of wondering if I could do it, months of range-time practice, and long days in the stand, I had my first Whitetail with a handgun.
The S&W Model 629 Performance Center Magnum Hunter in .44 Magnum, loaded with Hornady Handgun Hunter 200-grain Monoflex ammunition made quick work of the doe, as she expired within 10-yards of the shot. The flood of both adrenaline and thankfulness for the harvest came in waves, not unlike that of “normal” rifle hunting for whitetails, but with an added zing of being accomplished with a handgun.
I’ve shot handguns for years--carry guns, personal protection training, backyard plinking, and casual target practice; however, until this year, I never dedicated a serious amount of time to the thought of handgun hunting. It always seemed shotguns and rifles were calling for the trips afield.
For you long-gunners out there contemplating joining the ranks of handgun hunters, take my advice--drop what you’re doing right now and get after it. Combining the challenge and thrill of handgun hunting is close kin to bow hunting, wherein the hunter and hunted get into closer range. Now, of course, we’re not talking about ultra-long-range handgun hunting, because those fanatics are in a class all their own, one I appreciate from the sideline.
The handgun hunting life can be as affordable—or pricey—as one cares to make it. I was lucky enough to have the chance to work through dozens of guns in my quest for the handguns with which I wanted to hunt. There were a half dozen 10mm pistols from manufacturers like Remington, Ruger, Springfield, and Glock. I even flirted with the idea of going 10mm in the Ruger Super Redhawk revolver. Boxes of ammo sent downrange through the Taurus Raging Hunter, T/C Contenders, Desert Eagles—all solid platforms. Yet, the allure of the more nostalgic wheelgun in its potent calibers was the hook. But which and where to begin? My answer was not one, but two revolvers that I’d use for different types of hunting.
After an exhilarating, up-close experience with a monster free-range Wild Boar in Texas that fell to a single round of Buffalo Bore ammo out of a borrowed S&W Magnum Hunter in .44 Magnum, I knew I had to have one of those. But I had already fallen in love with the hulky, also All-American made Magnum Research BFR revolvers earlier while doing a review. Could I justify two hunting handguns? What a silly question. Of course! Heck, even two is not enough. The most difficult question now is which handgun gets to come out and play. For the whitetail hunt, I was confident I could get it done and in closer range with the .44 Magnum. I’d keep the BFR in .375 Winchester for another day on even bigger game.
Therein lies the challenge and joy of handgun hunting. Once you do it, you’re hooked and wanting more. In idle hours, I find myself plotting details of the next hunt--the where’s, what’s, and at the end of mental packing, a handgun has made its way into the gun case and either onto the flight or into the truck.
It’s easy to discount a meat hunt. Some might say, this take was “just a doe,” but it’s never “just” anything when hunting wild game. This hunt was about a beautiful harvest, pure protein for the family this winter, a personal accomplishment as a hunter, and a hook into the wonderful rabbit-hole that is handgun hunting.